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Showing posts from 2018

Review of Benidorm Live at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

I arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre to see this touring stage version of ITV comedy hit Benidorm with a distinct lack of knowledge. Having never seen the show, my information stretched as far as knowing it was set in a holiday resort in Spain (the title helps there), and that the humour generally resorted to the cruder end of the spectrum. However, having graced the screens for ten years, it was clear that Derren Litten's show had garnered quite a following, and indeed it was clear from the reception of the audience on the night, that this following was pretty much filling the theatre.

The plot, such as it is for this stage show, is very much drafted from an episode of Fawlty Towers, and made a great deal more adult with its humour. The hotel manager, Joyce Temple-Savage (a sharp performance by Sherrie Hewson) gets wind that a hotel inspector is in, and the scene is set for seeking them out and all the obvious cases of mistaken identity. It's thin and doesn't fill the show,…

Review of Touching The Void at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

For those unfamiliar with this story, this review tells more than you might want to know ahead of seeing it. So, the short review for those who don't know the story of Joe Simpson, go and see this play and then come and read this review if you wish.

Staging the 1985 tale of Joe Simpson and his somewhat unbelievable, if it wasn't true, escape from surviving three days without food and water, a 150 foot fall previous, and following breaking his leg a previous, previous, seems an insurmountable challenge, but with the clever work of writer David Greig, director Tom Morris, and designer Ti Green and the rest of the creative team, we manage during a long and pulsating evening of theatre to reach that peak.

Following a short sequence of flashes of what is to come, we join Simon (Edward Hayter), Richard (Patrick McNamee) and Sarah (Fiona Hampton) at the wake of Joe Simpson, imagined for the stage and a neat way of introducing us to the story. Here Sarah, Joe's sister becomes the …

Review of Duets from White Cobra Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Hot on the heels of their award-winning production of Peter Quilter's Glorious!, White Cobra Productions turn to another of the writer's back catalogue for their very next production. It is easy to see why they should choose to do so, as Duets (a comedy about couples), is a stunningly well-written piece, formed of a quartet of plays loosely linked around the theme of love and romance.

What is very apparent watching Duets is the surprising strength of all of the pieces, there is no filler here to complete the four. Indeed a conversation after the show resulted in three people coming to the conclusion that we each liked a different one, and I have no doubt that in the bar there was someone who had the other as their favourite.

Each of the four segments also has a very different style to it, the opening play Blind Date revels in silliness and awkwardness to create it's comedy, while Secretarial Skills creates some extremely clever humour while also working to a very strong t…

Review of Kinky Boots at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The hit musical travels from Broadway to the West End, to, erm, Northampton, as the first ever British tour of Kinky Boots launches in its spiritual home (fact fans, it was actually a factory nine miles down the road in Earls Barton that became the home of kinky boots).

The 2005 film of Kinky Boots is a relatively minor old British film and didn't exactly set the box office alight, but it has a wealth of homegrown acting talent (including a certain Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola, on his way to Oscars success a few years later). Personally, I really loved it (although its depiction of Northampton is overtly weird), and as well as some great performances, it was sharply written by Geoff Deane and the always remarkably reliable Tim Firth. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the basis of their work is the best part of this stage musical version of the film. Despite this being a book by Harvey Fierstein, the best lines and situations are plunked right from Deane and Firth's work.

In …

Launch of Splash! at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

This Tuesday I attended the launch of a brand new initiative in the arts to help disabled children get greater access to the field and improved job success. Based in the East Midlands and covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire, the Northampton event was the central stop of a day of events. With the group set off from Leicester in the morning before heading down the waterways towards Northampton, they stopped over at the brand new University of Northampton Campus on the banks of the River Nene. Following this, the Northampton launch took place in the Royal Theatre, before then finally heading to Nottingham for the evening launch.

By the time the Royal stage event was reached, things hadn't totally got to plan timewise, so a little late, the event began. Following a brief welcome from Royal & Derngate artistic director, James Dacre, The Mighty Creatives chief executive, Nick Owen, launched into an explanation of what was planned.

Review of The Lovely Bones at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

It's a few years since I read Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones, a story which tells the tale of Susie Salmon, and her murder and her observations and attempts to control events from Heaven. However, even after this many years, I still remember it for being the source of many manly tears. Therefore it was with some trepidation that I set foot in the Royal part of the Royal & Derngate to see this touring co-production with Birmingham Repertory and Northern Stage. I needn't have worried, as although the story remains much the same, Bryony Lavery's adaptation heads towards the comedy and more relaxed aspects of the story if that is possible of a tale of a murdered 14-year-old.
Lavery and director Melly Still do attempt to unsettle their audience immediately though, launching into a sensory overload of light and sound as we get flashes of things to come in a stylish opening. We have already at this point, seated in the auditorium, been treated with a little of wha…

Review of The Producers at Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

You need a pretty special show to justify a 120-mile journey, however, I was assured that this production of Mel Brooks' The Producers at Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Well, was worth that effort. In the end, it more or less was very worthwhile.

The Producers, from the mind of Mel Brooks, first appeared as a film 51 years ago, and much later became this musical in its debut on Broadway in 2001. It tells the story of the unscrupulous theatre producer Max Bialystock, far away from his successful days and now a flop master as the Opening Night lyrics "We've seen sh*t, but never like this" suggest.

As Bialystock, the artistic director of Trinity, John Martin, steps into the role, and his brilliant performance from start to finish is a dream. Commanding the large and challenging role, and although there are many highlights of his performance, Betrayed for me is one of the most simply delivered and yet most entertaining pieces of the show. His comic timing is brilliant throu…

Review of Blackbird at Bonkers Playhouse, Kettering

Seeing Blackbird by David Harrower, presented me with my first visit to Bonkers Playhouse in Kettering. Opening just this year, it has become the home to Bonkers Theatrical, a group set up in 2009, and the cosy little venue also plays host to a wide range of touring productions, including those from White Cobra and Next Page Productions. It's a smart and really lovely little venue, complete with bar, seating of up to 40, and an impressive stage and bar area with some innovative ideas. However, what of the play?

Blackbird by David Harrower is a tough and gritty little piece, a ninety minute one act, but here split in a nice location. Una has found, by accident, Ray, who 15 years earlier had sexually abused her. He then a 40-year-old, her, just 12. It's an uncomfortable premise to form a play from, however, the sharpness of the writing, while definitely making its audience uncomfortable, never makes it unwatchable.

What it does need though are two performers of some ability and …

Review of The Crucible at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

A few weeks ago I headed down to London to see this years graduating University of Northampton BA Actors perform Arthur Miller's classic The Crucible, and while it was generally spotlessly performed, as expected, the staging of it was tremendously dull, offering little stimulation beyond just the words being said. It made a classic, quite dull as a result. There was no such issue with The Actors Company production, staged in the atmospheric Underground space, and directed with such style and flair by Fay Lomas, to make Miller's play unrecognisable from that London version.

Based around the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, Reverend Parris (a tough uncompromising performance from Steve While) comes across a group of girls dancing in the forest. When one of the girls, Betty (Laura Green), falls into a coma, events spiral out of control for many of the residents of the town, as accusations fly. Soon, Judge Danforth (Sue Whyte) is on the scene, and the lives of the residents a…

Review of Flashdance - The Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

For the second week running, the Milton Keynes Theatre is overrun by a wave of eighties nostalgia as Selladoor's production of Flashdance The Musical follows hot on the heels of An Officer and a Gentlemen. However, is it nice to have more of that classic decade upon the stage? The answer mostly is yes, despite the fact that the story driving Flashdance is that light and flimsy at times, you just have to sit back and watch the dancing and the bright colours to get you through.

Welding genius, Alex Owens, has her sights set for a bigger thing beyond this tired and struggling factory in Pittsburgh.  Hoping to take her dancing beyond Harry's bar, she plans to make big, via Shipley Dance Academy.  Then, also drifting into her life comes Nick Hurley, who initially unknown to her, happens to be the factory bosses son, the scene is set for romance.

Flashdance has a generally excellent cast led with a tremendously good performance from Joanne Clifton as Alex Owens. Those familiar with …